On the Sports Motion – Speech by Dennis Tan

Mdm Deputy Speaker, I support the motion as moved by my honourable colleague and MP for Sengkang GRC Associate Professor Jamus Lim, “That this House celebrates the accomplishments of our athletes and para-athletes at the recent 32nd SEA Games and the 12th ASEAN Para Games in Cambodia, and calls on the Government to undertake a thorough evaluation of the areas of improvement in Singapore’s sporting ecosystem, and commit to realising clear, achievable goals for sporting success over the coming decade.” 

Indeed, I joined my colleagues and members of this house in congratulating our athletes and para-athletes at the recent SEA Games and ASEAN Para Games in Cambodia. I would also like to congratulate all the athletes from Hougang SMC for their achievements and thank them for their hard work and dedication.

Mdm Deputy Speaker, I share the same concerns and agree with what my honourable colleague, member for Aljunied GRC Faisal Manap has stated in his speech. In addition to the points he has made, I also have a few suggestions. 

Mr Deputy Speaker, Singapore is indeed a football-mad nation. We have a massive following of European football and many in Singapore have a favourite English Premier League team or a European club. 

Many Singaporeans were disappointed with the results of our football team at the SEA Games and we saw much outpouring of emotions by many. Many of us wonder how we have gotten to where we are today. However, beyond the disappointment and frustration, I believe that there is a national will to see Singapore football succeed, and we want to support our players and coaches to improve and succeed!

Mdm Deputy Speaker, we can do better by starting with the basics and building a sustainable ecosystem, to harness this passion to improve Singapore football. I believe we can do more to increase the accessibility to the sport and therefore cultivating a larger pool of talents and increased buy-in from Singaporeans.

Developing a broader base of talent with grassroots football

Mdm Deputy Speaker, to begin with, I think it is important to develop a broader base of talent. I would like to suggest that more efforts be directed into the lower football leagues to encourage better participation and to improve quality in such leagues. According to the FAS Annual Report for 2022, Singapore Premier League Clubs received $8,896,804 in grants while FAS’ total expenses for SPL amounted to $13,669,626 (inclusive of the said grants). In comparison, FAS had only incurred a combined expenses of $147,404 for the SFL Divisions 1 and 2 together with Women’s Football inclusive of the Women’s Domestic League. While we can understand why there may be some disparity, I think FAS can still do more to invest in its own lower football leagues, or what FAS described as “Domestic Football League” in its Notes to their Financial Statements for FY 2022.  I hope FAS can do more to generate interest, increase participation and improve standards. There should be more equitable distribution for these lower grassroots  leagues under FAS to provide a larger pool of talent for SPL clubs as well as for our National teams.  If such grassroots football leagues had even one fifth of such resources dedicated to them, the conditions and levels of grassroots football can improve drastically e.g. clubs can have more budget for training spaces and coaches, or even simple things like having more balls for matches and decent insurance coverage for their players. 

On SPL Clubs’ Financial Models

Still on the issue of the funding for SPL Clubs I have mentioned earlier, I would also like to suggest that such funding may be a two-edged sword. While it is encouraging that clubs can afford to pay their players and keep the lights on, it appears to have its drawbacks in other aspects.

One, SPL Clubs are not reliant on fans for income unlike most clubs around the world, so there is no pressing need to market themselves to reach out to new fans and cultivate a strong fan base to support each club.  

Next, football fans want to support teams that have history and identity e.g. FC Barcelona attracts fans with their tiki-taka brand of football, or a club like Stoke City garnering a cult following in the 2010s with their physical brand of football. However, while having a common pool of funds for the clubs is good on paper, it may in fact dilute the identity factor. 

Mdm Deputy Speaker, for these reasons, Clubs should be further encouraged to build their own identity, branding, following and fanbase. In fact, this may in turn improve their advertising and sponsorship income. 

Another possible solution is to earmark specific funds for purposes such as marketing, merchandising and ticket subsidies. Another suggestion is to gradually reduce the general funding over a longer period of time, say 10 years, to encourage clubs to find diverse revenue streams.

Earlier I have mentioned the disparity of funding between SPL and SFL clubs. Perhaps we can increase competition and standards at the SPL as well as at the SFL by reintroducing the prospects of promotion and relegation e.g. the bottom one or two SPL clubs would be automatically relegated, to be replaced by say the top one or two clubs in the SFL. This would encourage greater competition among all clubs at all levels and enhance quality, standards, participation and interest at different levels.  It will drive clubs in lower leagues to improve their standards to seek promotion to the SPL. It will discourage complacency for clubs at the SPL level as they cannot take their higher grant or income stream for granted. 

Lowering barriers to recreational football in the heartlands

Mdm Deputy Speaker, I believe more can be done about the street football culture, or the lack of it, in Singapore. Many household names football fans of all ages recognise started out with street football: from Diego Maradona to Johan Cruyff, or perhaps more recently, players like Ronaldinho, Wayne Rooney, or Cristiano Ronaldo.

Many Singaporeans of different generations would remember playing football at void decks or even on a grass patch in a kampung. How has our street football culture developed over the decades?  

Our street football culture in Singapore has been curtailed by the lack of space. In earlier years perhaps, we had a unique void deck football culture, where neighbours of even both genders would come together to have a kickabout – that was a uniquely Singapore football culture. Many remembered void deck football fondly; it was near home. It was sheltered so people can play rain or shine, and it has many pre-made goalposts, or team mates in the form of pillars! However, as our municipal management culture made advances, the ‘no football’ signs would dampen the playing of football on void decks (and understandably so in consideration of safety, cleanliness and noise) before HDB eventually stopped building suitably sized void decks in our HDB blocks in the past 20 years. 

There are of course commercial futsal courts appearing in the past 20 years as an alternative, such as the Cage and the Rainforest but these has its own barriers: it is impractical for primary school children to travel to these places alone with their friends, fork out the money and organise matches. Even for many adults, the travel and the need to look for sufficient team-mates make this a rather formal affair that requires a high degree of organisation, instead of the ‘pick-up games’ in the neighbourhood.

While there are designated street courts in some neighbourhoods, the weather in Singapore is an active deterrent for play during the afternoon, which is when many more children may have their free time, after school or homework. 

Perhaps we can revive the void deck football culture in more modern manifestations by recreating the conditions that made void deck football so inviting: the close proximity to home, the shelter from the rain and the ease of access. Perhaps SportSG  can fund the building of roof shelters to neighbourhood street courts and the building of sheltered street courts on the top levels of some of the MSCPs. 

Next, FAS can also do more to encourage having more 5 or 7-a-side games or tournaments for youth football. 5 or 7-a-sides games or tournaments, together with necessary skills training may especially be appropriate for youth football such as for U-16 and below, before the players’ full physical maturity. This has been recognised by footballing powerhouses such as England, Germany, even FIFA and locally at FAS. 

Youth Development

Mdm Deputy Speaker, we also need to support and improve our youth pipeline of footballing talent. Under the current Unleash The Roar initiative, it is laudable that FAS has continued to identify talents from Under-8 to Under-15 levels. However, this comes with a risk of leaving behind late developers who cannot match their peers physically early on. They don’t have the same opportunity or access to resources to peers who hit puberty earlier. 

Mdm Deputy Speaker, I think this is relevant in youth football, as this disparity in physical ability will mean earlier developers will rely on physical attributes, rather than develop their skills or tactical know-how, to perform. 

One possible solution is to adopt the concept of bio-banding by classifying youths according to predicted height and weight (also known as the Khamis-Roche method), rather than by age. This has been used by the New Zealand’s All-Blacks rugby team to great success. It has also been used in the EPL. Studies have shown that bio-banding results in a more technical and challenging game.

I would submit that adopting bio banding would further complement the current youth development’s emphases on improving tactical and technical skills. 


Mdm Deputy Speaker, amidst the passionate debate and the positive suggestions and critiques we have heard in this House as members share their minds in this Debate, we would do well to remind ourselves to support and to also trust our football professionals, coaches, managers, former players and trained experts to make the right decisions, and not take over the decision-making from them accidentally through our enthusiasm. 

While researching in preparation for this speech, I was reminded that even FIFA themselves set in stone rules that enforce this; Article 17.1 of FIFA’s statutes states: “Each Member shall manage its affairs independently and with no influence from third parties”. 

To illustrate by way of examples, providing the funding to hire youth coaches, but not be involved in interviewing the coaches themselves, rather to leave the professionals to make the decisions; providing space for grassroots football, but not dictate the rules of the leagues. We have many illustrious experts in the field, and we need to trust them to bring Singapore football to the next level.

In conclusion, I hope for a stronger, broader grassroots and youth development infrastructure for Singapore football that will let more Singaporeans enjoy the beautiful game while improving the talent pool in the long run. Mdm Deputy Speaker, I support the Motion.